The 79th session of the trial of Hamid Noury, a former prison guard accused of participating in the mass execution of political prisoners in the summer of 1988, was held in the court of Stockholm on Tuesday, March 29. The witness who testified in court was Mahmoud Khalili, a former political prisoner.
Mahmoud Khalili, nicknamed “Uncle” among the prisoners in Ghezel Hesar, was arrested in Tehran on October 26, 1981, for sending poetry and pitching articles to the ‘Kar’ magazine and supporting the People’s Fedayeen Guerrilla Organization. He was later sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Following his arrest, he was forced to write a will and then taken away to an unknown place where he would experience his own “mock execution“.
Khalili, appearing as a witness in the court hearing, stated that he was transferred from Ghezel Hesar Prison to Gohardasht Prison in 1986, where he was kept in several corridors and solitary confinement cells. In 1987, after the prisoners were classified into groups according to their verdict and their religious background or beliefs, he was transferred to Ward 6 of Gohardasht Prison and had to stay along with about 60 left-wing political prisoners and 38 Baha’i prisoners.
On Tuesday’s court hearing, Khalili testified that until December 1986, as someone who had been responsible for the Ward, he had repeatedly encountered Hamid Noury in Gohardasht Prison and knew him well. The witness said that Noury has always been an IRGC guard to him.
Khalili testified that he was beaten and humiliated by Hamid Noury personally. Upon his mother’s death, Governor of Gohardasht Prison and member of the “Death Commission” in Tehran, Mohammad Moghisseh (A.K.A. Nasserian) had ordered Mr. Khalili to write a letter officially stating that he condemns the very organization to which he was affiliated, swear loyalty to the Islamic Republic and show up on national TV and speak about his regret for opposing the regime. This was the only way to be allowed to attend his mother’s funeral, he was told.
The witness said that following his resistance, he was kicked and punched.
“If you had signed the paper, we would have not given you the leave anyway,” Hamid Noury had told him.
According to the witness, one day after he was transferred to Gohardasht prison, his mother had visited the prison and requested to meet her son. She was denied the meeting by the prison officials and upon the treatment and stress that followed, she suffered a stroke and passed away one day later.
Responding to how the witness learned about the executions, the Khalili said that when the television set was taken away from Ward six and when open airtime was cut off on Wednesday, July 27, 1988, the prisoners went on hunger strike but unprecedently, there was no reaction on behalf of the prison guards and no one sought to attack or punish them.
“By mid-August, we got word through Morse code from the Mojahedin prisoners that a number of them had already been executed,” the former political prisoner recalled.
According to Khalili, almost all prison guards of Ward 6 had been replaced in August and September 1988. He had witnessed that by mid-August, around 50 or 60 prisoners entered the prison courtyard. These prisoners wore clean clothes and slippers he said. The witness stated that the next day, he personally saw a pile of slippers behind the closed iron door of the prison yard.
Khalili told the court that he was taken to the “Death Corridor” on August 27, 1988, where he heard the sound of trucks and the news of their arrival at the prison compound by a guard.
He explained to the court how individuals in the “Death Corridor” were taken in groups and relocated to the death chamber to be executed. In describing the execution of Keyvan Mostafavi, a young prisoner, he said that Keyvan jumped to the end of a line, without being sure where it was leading. It turned out the group was being transferred towards the amphitheater and by mistake, he had joined a group that was later executed.
Khalili testified that he had personally collected the belongings of some of the executed political prisoners and put them in their bags. He said that his handwriting could probably still be found on some of these bags which were partially sent back to the victims’ families. Presenting photos of the families of the 70 executed prisoners to the court, he said he had taken the photos of the families of the executed prisoners as a keepsake while collecting their belongings.
Khalili also testified that he had faced the Death Commission in Gohardasht Prison twice. The first time was on August 27, 1988, after he was transferred from Ward six to the Death Corridor. The witness said that he stood in front of the Death Commission, including Judge Hossein-Ali Nayeri and special judicial tribunal (Tehran Prosecutor) Morteza Eshraghi, and resisted the pressures to accept compulsory prayer by emphasizing that neither his father nor himself ever believed in God or prayed. Khalili testified that after leaving the Death Commission, he personally heard Nasserian talking to Hamid Noury and saying: “Take him to the ward of that pray. Don’t take him to the wrong place, like those 37 people you did the other day”.
According to the testimony of Khalili, Nasserian was mocking Hamid Noury who had mistakenly executed 37 people during the massacre of 1988.
Explaining the events after meeting with the Death Commission, Khalili told the judges how he and several other surviving prisoners were flogged for refusing to pray.
“Through Morse code, we found out that Ward seven was totally emptied of prisoners, and we heard through the ventilation outlet that the guards told other prisoners to write their wills and put their watches, glasses, and everything else in plastic bags,” he said.
The witness said that he had seen two trucks that night. One of them was parked under a street light post a few meters away from the amphitheater, the execution site. He testified that he had personally seen the bodies of the executed prisoners that night.
After the executions, Khalili was transferred to Evin Prison in February 1989 and released from prison two weeks later.
During his testimony, Khalili showed the court a piece of the blindfold that he had kept from his time in prison in the 1980s.
“These blindfolds are not properly made and I can see through them. For your own experience, I’m willing to put it on and go to every place the court wants me to,” he said.
Kenneth Lewis, the plaintiffs’ lawyer in the case, asked the court to add this blindfold to the case file as evidence in the indictment.